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Posts Tagged ‘Jason Hughes’

I think I would best describe this intriguing play by Ed Thomas as Samuel Beckett meets Dylan Thomas. It’s dialogue is poetic and it’s story is obscure, something I often turn against, but here I found it rather captivating.

John Daniel and his wife Noni are the last inhabitants of Bear Ridge. They’ve had to close their butchers shop. The post office has stopped delivering mail and their phone line has been cut. Their shop assistant & slaughter-man Ifan William has stayed with them. We don’t exactly know why Bear Ridge is being deserted, though it appears to be the result of a war of some sorts. Fighter planes occasionally fly overhead and an army man, The Captain, pays a visit.

Their conversation ranges from their plight to reminiscences about a happier past and reflections on tragedy, when we learn that John Daniel & Noni’s son, and Ifan William’s best friend, went to university to study philosophy but was killed because he spoke ‘the old language’. The Captain, a clearly tortured soul, has his own tragic story to tell. I’m still trying to piece it all together, with an intriguing note in the play-script suggesting it is ‘semi-autobiographical’.

Rhys Ifans and Rakie Ayola are both terrific as the couple at the centre of the story, with fine support from Sion Daniel Young as Ifan William and Jason Hughes as The Captain. Cai Dyfan’s design is hugely atmospheric, the exit of the walls representing the decline, as is the music and sound design. The Royal Court’s AD Vicky Featherstone co-directs with the playwright.

National Theatre Wales has gone through a difficult time of late, but it’s good to see them back, and in London, with this Royal Court co-production. I suspect I will be processing it for some time yet.

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I wasn’t sure I needed or wanted to see this again only two years after Out of Joint’s small scale touring version visited St James Theatre, but sometimes during my NT bookings my mouse takes on a life of its own and the next thing you know you’ve clicked a few times and its in your basket and your diary; fortunately on this case. It betters that production, and the original at the Royal Court 25 years earlier, because of its scale and the addition of music by Cerys Matthews.

It’s based on the true story of the first (penal) colonists shipped to Australia in 1797 as an alternative to imprisonment at home, after North America ceased to be an option. There were just under 600 convicts and 600 crew and marines. The practice continued for 80 years and the rest is history, fresh in my mind after visiting what’s left of these penal colonies and subsequent settlements earlier in the year. The conditions on the journey, and when they first arrived, were horrendous. Many of the officers were vicious and merciless. They were transported for the pettiest of crimes and often tried again and hung after they’d arrived with even less justice for sometimes spurious crimes, or at least with insufficient evidence. In this play, officer Second Lieutenant Ralph Clark is determined to attempt rehabilitation through theatre and he gets the Governor’s agreement to stage George Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer. Daily life in the colony is interspersed with rehearsals for the play as his fellow officers make every attempt to undermine Clark. The debate about punishment or rehabilitation runs through the play and though it’s set 200 years ago still has relevance today.

Nadia Fall’s production makes great use of the space and resources of the Olivier Theatre, particularly the revolve and drum. Designer Peter McKintosh has created a giant red, orange and brown backdrop inspired by aboriginal art which leaves the stage uncluttered, allowing the piece to flow with the round ever-changing platform. The music provides a melancholic folk-blues sound-scape which does much to create the atmosphere and contains some beautiful songs beautifully sung. A lone aboriginal man is ever present, looking on with curiosity and disbelief. The whole effect is very evocative of the place and time.  It’s a superb cast. Amongst the officers, Jason Hughes is a warm, sympathetic and ultimately moving Ralph. It’s a tribute to the performances of Peter Forbes and David Mara that their brutality repulsed me physically. Amongst the convicts, Ashley McGuire as determined, defiant Bryant, Jodie McNee as feisty Scouse Morden and Lee Ross as obsequious Sideway shone.

In a week where you couldn’t help questioning our humanity as we watched the refugee crisis evolve, it resonated much more. Here was the lack of humanity of another age. This is Timberlake Wertenbaker’s best play and this production may be the definitive one, and perhaps the most timely one too.

 

 

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What I loved most about this brilliant but harrowing play was its unpredictability. And the terrific performances. Oh, and the superb design. In fact I liked just about everything about it.

When his mum dies of cancer, seventeen year old Liam has to move from the north to the South Wales valleys to live with his biological father Rick who he never knew and who doesn’t really want him. They are like chalk and cheese. Liam is intelligent, sensitive and quick-witted. Rick’s nickname is Viol, for Violence, which tells you all you need to know about him. He rules by fear and he’d like his son to be as tough as he is. Liam wants to grieve, Rick wants him to toughen up and get laid. Liam is obsessed with Dr Who. Rick is obsessed with alcohol and sex.

The action takes place in an evening and the following morning in Rick’s living room. Liam has been to a Dr Who convention with his school friend Jen, who’s now finding it impossible to get home in the rain. Rick has been in bed with his lover Suze. The play explores this father and son relationship as it takes some extraordinary turns, with Jen and Suze well and truly caught up in it. It’s a brilliant piece of writing from Gary Owen. The room is circular, wall waist high, with two gated entrances. We’re sat in grubby white plastic seats or on the usual ‘upstairs’ benches on ‘concrete’ behind. Cai Dyfan’s clever design felt like a bullring, which came to seem ever so appropriate given the amount of testosterone on display.

It’s a bit disconcerting when it seems like yesterday you first encountered Jason Hughes as the 20-something gay lawyer on TV in This Life and now he’s old enough to play a 40-something dad – and he’s terrific, cast against type, scaring the life out of me. This appears to be David Moorst’s second stage outing as Liam and it’s a stunning, delicate performance that squeezes every ounce of wit and sarcasm from his lines. Jen’s transition from innocent to a little bit predatory to aggrieved is beautifully handled by Morfydd Clark. Siwan Morris has her own journey from compliant to apologetic to outraged, also navigated brilliantly. It’s a fine set of performances indeed.

The play reminded me a bit of David Mamet’s Oleanna, where people left the theatre with different takes on it. It’s inconclusive, which means it continues to play in your head for some time. Great theatre. Go!

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